Reduce Mind Wandering with Mindfulness Training Including both Attention and Acceptance Training.


Reduce Mind Wandering with Mindfulness Training Including both Attention and Acceptance Training.


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“being in a mind-wandering state – instead of aware of present moment activities – is not such a happy state. We are generally happier when we are not mind-wandering. “ – Susan L. Smalley


We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.


You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our minds are wandering we are actually less happy than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the present moment and what we’re doing and makes us unhappy. There is evidence that mindfulness training produces a reduction in mind wandering. Mindfulness training, however, is complex; containing a number of skills including attention training and also acceptance training. It is not known which component or the combination is necessary for the reduction in mind wandering.


In today’s Research News article “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Reduces Mind-Wandering: The Critical Role of Acceptance. Emotion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Rahl and colleagues recruited participants aged 18-30 years from a university community and randomly assigned them to one of four conditions; attention monitoring-only mindfulness, attention monitoring + acceptance mindfulness, relaxation training program, or listening to neutral reading material in a reading control condition. All training occurred on 4 consecutive days for 20 minutes each and employed pre-recorded trainings. Participants were measured before and after the brief trainings for mindfulness, training expectancy, and sustained attention.


They found that the monitoring + acceptance mindfulness group had significantly longer sustained attention, suggesting less mind wandering, than the other three groups. Hence, both attention training and acceptance training in combination are necessary for mindfulness training to reduce mind wandering. In other words, participants need to practice both focusing their attention and also accepting things as they are in order to reduce the likelihood of the mind wandering away from the present moment or the task at hand.


This is a bit surprising as it would seem logical that training attention would be the key to restricting mind wandering. But, that was not the case. It was necessary that the individual needs to learn not to judge their experience to reduce mind wandering. This suggests that the process of judging experience takes mental activity that is not focused in the present moment and hence tends to elicit mind wandering.


So, reduce mind wandering with mindfulness training including both attention and acceptance training.


“By noticing and getting to know our patterns, we untangle from the bind of automaticity. This process is usually a gradual one. We need reminders to come back to awareness again and again. These reminders to wake up are built into mindfulness practice: over time, as we train in noticing and coming back to experience, we can shift from a place of unconscious habit to a place of clearer seeing. This shift can be allowed to happen gently—one moment at a time.” – Ed Halliwell


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Rahl, H. A., Lindsay, E. K., Pacilio, L. E., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Reduces Mind-Wandering: The Critical Role of Acceptance. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 17(2), 224–230.



Mindfulness meditation programs, which train individuals to monitor their present moment experience in an open or accepting way, have been shown to reduce mind-wandering on standardized tasks in several studies. Here we test two competing accounts for how mindfulness training reduces mind-wandering, evaluating whether the attention monitoring component of mindfulness training alone reduces mind-wandering or whether the acceptance training component is necessary for reducing mind-wandering. Healthy young adults (N=147) were randomized to either a 3-day brief mindfulness training condition incorporating instruction in both attention monitoring and acceptance, a mindfulness training condition incorporating attention monitoring instruction only, a relaxation training condition, or a reading control condition. Participants completed measures of dispositional mindfulness and treatment expectancies before the training session on Day 1 and then completed a 6-minute Sustained Attention Response Task (SART) measuring mind-wandering after the training session on Day 3. Acceptance training was important for reducing mind-wandering, such that the monitoring + acceptance mindfulness training condition had the lowest mind-wandering relative to the other conditions, including significantly lower mind-wandering relative to the monitor-only mindfulness training condition. In one of the first experimental mindfulness training dismantling studies to-date, we show that training in acceptance is a critical driver of mindfulness training reductions in mind-wandering. This effect suggests that acceptance skills may facilitate emotion regulation on boring and frustrating sustained attention tasks that foster mind-wandering, such as the SART.


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